Saturday, January 22, 2011

Voices in your Head – Not Just for Schizophrenics Anymore

Voices in your head used to be reserved for schizophrenics. We all have our borderline freak out periods, but it used to be that if someone was telling you what to do, and if no-one else was getting those instructions but you, you probably had some legitimate chemical issue and needed to be re-aligned with some powerful meds. No so any more.

I was out for an early morning run a few weeks ago somewhere outside of Plano, Texas. The sun wasn’t up yet. There wasn’t a car or another human being in sight. My path was lit by the signs from an endless expanse of low end strip mall stores. And then I heard the voice. Quiet at first, but getting louder as I jogged along. It was telling me that I could come in and get two hot dogs and a 32 ounce fountain soda for $1.99. Pretty stupid thing for an inner voice to be telling me. A little disappointing. Then I realized that the voice was real. It was coming from half a dozen TVs hanging over the gas pumps at a gas station. It was the ExxonMobil network, or something like that. An hour before sunrise. The gas station not even open. And some disembodied voice was trying to hawk dogs and soda pop to me.

It kinda felt like the last straw. Can’t a man run down the side of a Texas highway, virtually in the middle of the night, and just be alone with his thoughts, without a bunch of screaming TVs trying to sell him shit?

TVs have crept into just about every last public space. Bars, restaurants, stores, airports, waiting rooms – that’s old news. Now they’re in the back of cabs, in elevators and yes, hanging over gas pumps. (As a sidenote, the elevator TV network, aptly named “The Captivate Network”, has a bizarre fascination with body parts. I’ve learned from its “trivia” category that an average person’s skin, if removed and stretched out, would cover seven square yards, and that the average human heart weighs 11 ounces.) And there’s a difference between the TV you watch from your La-Z-Boy and the ones looking down on you from the walls of elevators. When you watch TV at home, at least you’re watching it of your own volition. If you’ve had a long day in the office, a crappy commute home, and you’ve finally put the kids to sleep and are ready to sit back and take in a good enlightening episode of Three and a Half Men, more power to you. You’ve made that choice. Enjoy. But when you’re assaulted by spewing TV vomit by no choice of your own, just because you opted to walk out the door, that’s not the same. It’s much worse.

While the entirety of network TV is really just filler to keep you seated for the ads, at least there are some occasional seven minute stretches of interesting or entertaining stuff that you might actually want to see. But the outside-the-house TVs – the cab TVs, the elevator TVs, the gas station TVs – are just pure advertising broadcasts. People who see them are on the move. No time to stop. So the ads have to come fast and furious, with almost no time at all for any content.

How did this happen? To figure it out, do what you do to figure anything out – follow the money. $241 billion (BILLION!) was spent on advertising last year (source – my friend Chris who knows all about this stuff, from However you slice it, that is a LOT of friggin money. Someone is quite keen on getting a message out to us. And the message is, BUY MORE HOT DOGS AND 32 OUNCE FOUNTAIN DRINKS. To be inundated with ads at the gas pump is downright insulting! There you are, pumping gas, seeing your tab rack up real time on the meter. It’s like watching, almost literally, your money flow out from your bank account and into the coffers of an oil company. But having you stand there actively transferring over your funds is not enough. No, you have to be enticed to come into the shop afterward and pick up a few more consumer goods. When you’re done buying gas, waste no time! Buy more hot dogs!

It’s pretty obvious, and pretty obnoxious. So why do we put up with this? Because we’ve all tacitly agreed to go ahead and whore out our collective subconscious. Wherever there’s advertising, there’s a little something in it for us. A few bucks paid to a shop owner, a little bit of a subsidy for ball park tickets. Maybe even a free tee shirt! And at what cost? It seems like there’s hardly any cost at all. No-one feels like ads affect them. We’re all smarter than that. We do what we want. No talking gas pump is going to make us do anything we don’t want to do. But it does! Businesses know what they’re doing. That $241 billion isn’t being floated out there without a whole lot of thought being put into it. And the persistent drum of ads creeps in, gets inside us, penetrates deep into our subconscious.

And before you know it, without even realizing why, you order a Bud Light. Because some little voice in your mind is telling you that if you have a Bud Light in hand, there’s just a teensy bit more of a chance that that ridiculously-out-of-your-league girl at the other end of the bar is going to wander over, say hello, drag you back to her love palace and have her way with you. Or your gut tells you you should buy your sweetie a $60,000 Lexus for Christmas. Or you feel suddenly, inexplicably, a little hungry for two hot dogs and a 32 ounce fountain soda.

Well I for one am not going to take it anymore. This intrusion into my personal space has gone on for too long. Corporate America is not going to brainwash me into forking over my hard earned dollars for junk I don’t really want. I am going to start boycotting not just all businesses that advertise in the elevator, in the back seats of cabs and over gas pumps, but all business that advertise at all. I guess I won’t be able to buy beer or order pizzas for delivery. I’ll have to cut out a lot of entertainment. Do public utilities advertise? Yeah, I think they might. Guess my house will be cold and dark. I won’t really be able to eat much. Probably have to just live on tap water. But that’s OK. I’ll have my principals and my dignity. I’ll show corporate America. I may be cold and naked and starving, but we’ll see who has the last laugh.



I was in a bathroom in New York city only to have Charmin's new jingle "enjoy the go" being blasted over speakers in the bathroom. We can't even shit in peace!!!

veryfrank said...

Right on DanO. A sense of humor is our only hope and defense against the madness of the modern world.

Anonymous said...

Je suis sourd, ce qui m'aide un peu a eviter ces spots. Mais il m'est venu a l'esprit que tu devrais retourner au Mali, Daniel; la,au moins, tu pourrais avoir chaud en meme temps que tu serais nu et affame...(Je m'excuse de ne pas savoir comment creer les accents necessaires sur PC; je n'ai pas mon iMac avec moi.)
Devine qui je suis; un ancien prof ou un prof ancien? Ou les deux!

Anonymous said...

Right on!

Was that elevator in Hannibal Lector's office building? what kind of fun facts are those?

As I listen to Pandora and read this blog I can't help but think of Minority Report - welcome to the GAP Mr. Rodriguez, looking for a nice pair of pants to go with the shirt you bought last week?

In my mind the most insidiously evil ads have to be the prescription drugs. It's either "hey, you may not know it yet but you're sick and there's a drug that will help you". Or, "your doctor doesn't know it, but our drug is better than the other guy's!" I heard one consipiracy theory that the massive ad campaigns by pharma were just a money laundering scheme to buy the media so they wouldn't speak ill of Mr. Pharma. Just sayin...if you're lucky enough to have a doctor my guess is that he/she knows about the pharmacuetical options available.

Anonymous said...

Why not just boycott Texas?